I just had a tough conversation with a fellow pastor. Not long ago, I had a tough conversation with a friend who is active in politics. Both of these conversations took me back to similar talks with my kids when they were in elementary and middle school. All of these had one thing in common: bullying.
Those ugly (not speaking of their appearance but of their hearts) kids on the playground who ruled by bullying grow up. And unless there was some kind of correction or redemption to change it, I have found that their insatiable appetite for control — for power — only gets more deeply rooted with age. Some of these bullies become bosses — and they rule over their employees rather than fostering an environment where their subordinates flourish. Some of these bullies become politicians — and they love to exercise their power over the people they are elected to represent. Some of these bullies become leaders in the Church — and they work hard to set the church’s agenda, controlling and abusing people, often to the demise of the church’s health and witness.
I’ve found that bullies usually become bullies for one of two reasons: they were taught to bully people by someone over them (usually a parent), or they are bullying to protect an emotional wound they received (again, often from a parent). Both of these issues can be addressed, but success depends on the bully’s acceptance that they don’t have to keep living with a string of broken relationships filled with distrust and enmity.
I’ve dealt with way too many bullies to count in my life and ministry. And not all of those encounters went well. But if I am indeed called to be a peacemaker (not a peacekeeper, but Jesus’ agent to actually foster peace where it doesn’t exist), then I have to take the risk and enter that dialog. The one who is taught to be a bully is actually harder in my opinion to help. They are often from a powerful family, where bullying has been celebrated as a way to rise in authority (really, control) and “importance.” It’s part of the family identity — and it’s usually generational. To admit there is a problem is to expose the whole family line. It is rare in my experience to see one of these personalities turn. But I always hold out hope because no one is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit and prayer.
The wounded bully, on the other hand, appears to be more receptive. They may or may not be aware of their bullyish patterns, but they are nearly always aware of their pain. If you can find the wound, you can be Christ’s instrument of redemption and healing — and you might just watch the bully “spirit” melt away before your very eyes. I’ve seen many of these bullies become great and fruitful saints in the Church. I’ve heard testimonies of how their families and employees were shocked at how they had changed. And in the few cases where these bullies were the pastor, I’ve watched whole churches heal and become incredible outposts for the gospel in their communities.
Don’t run from bullies. Stand up to them with the love and authority of Christ. Become a very purposeful blockade to protect others who are being bullied, but at the same time prayerfully discern what kind of bully this is. Become unbulliable — and then allow Jesus to use you to begin ministering to the bully so they can be set free. As God gives you success in this, you not only gain a friend, but you change the environment of the whole community around you.